Camelot Theatre's current production of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is a cleanly executed, well-staged and well-acted production, a cautionary tale about the Wild West and the people who live there.
With swinging saloon doors, reactionary masked men, a belligerent but lovable leading lady who cleans up real nice in the form of Hallie Jackson (Courtney Crawford) and a young scholar from the big city who doesn't know what the heck he's getting into named Ransome Foster (Alex Boyles), the show turned out to be pretty good.
Crawford and Boyles are the initially pugilistic but soon enamored pair, and they are entertaining to watch as they circle around each other in the small bar that is owned by Jackson and frequented by Foster, a fellow who's out in the territories, opening a school in a Western town known as TwoTrees. He's not going over well with the locals — a snooty academic attitude and a willingness to educate people of color is not playing well on the prairie. To further complicate things, Foster has upset a legendary villain of the region, Liberty Valance (Bruno Marcotulli) who has a bone to pick with the young teacher.
All of this has the makings of a rootin'-tootin' gun-slinging extravaganza, and that it is, with direction by Olivia Harrison, who is a longtime denizen of Camelot and has worked both sides of the proscenium arch. Ms. Harrison's direction is pretty flawless for a semiprofessional theater, and a great deal of the action is well-wrought and watchable as a result of her steady hand.
Crawford is moving from strength-to-strength, too, and her Hallie is a fun, feisty, heart-of-gold archetype of the Old West. A moxie-fueled spitfire, she is gradually tamed somewhat by the steady seduction of Mr. Boyle's Foster. Boyles really shines in this role. His comic timing is very good, his acting is better than I've yet seen it, and he has a great rapport with all of his fellow actors.
In his small role as Jim "The Reverend" Mosten, Miykael Moore shines bright. He's a black man in a frontier town, which means he's constantly under duress; when Valance and his men arrive in town, it's only a matter of a few minutes before the lynching rope comes out. It's a stomach-churning scene made all the more powerful by Moore's acute understanding of the balance of power in such a situation. He finds his voice, though, after cowering before Valance for some long minutes in what is easily one of the most highly watchable scenes in the play.
Let's talk about the man who plays Liberty Valance for a moment. Mr. Marcotulli — a longtime theater and television actor who is a Hollywood, California, native — is an outstanding performer. In this play, he manages to shift the mood of the room into one of sinister villainy from the moment he steps onto the boards. Playing a character with such a long history in the public mind — Valance was, of course, made internationally famous by Lee Marvin in the film version — Marcotulli makes some very smart and subtle choices with this role, and his character stays legitimately menacing, never lurching into parody.
As Bert Barricune, Elliot Anderson plays the reactionary local yokel with aplomb. The rest of the cast is polished and well-directed. There were no weak links.
I'd like to take a moment to note that set design by Nicholas Hewitt was brilliantly conceived, with a sort of allusion to contemporary Japanese elements, while still coming off as thoroughly horse-opera oriented, no easy feat.
We enjoyed the show and hope to see Harrison's deft hand made evident at Camelot more regularly in the future. Ultimately, "Liberty Valance" is a fun night out and worth your time.
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" plays its final four shows Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 22 to 25, at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave. in Talent.
—Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.